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The Elingamite shipwreck

The sinking of the SS Elingamite, off the coast of northern New Zealand, was a tragedy that took lives in the early 20th century. The accident also left a treasure trove at the bottom of the sea, which many adventurous divers have tried to find. Some of them succeeded in recovering a few coins, mainly silver coins minted in Great Britain, which are now prized by numismatists.

The ship Elingamite

The SS Elingamite was an Australian cargo ship owned by the Huddart Parker shipping company. It was built in 1887 in Newcastle, England, by the company CS Swan & Hunter. After a two-month crossing, it arrived in Sydney in November 1887. This steel-hulled steamer, 98 meters long and weighing 2,585 tons, had a capacity of 200 passengers, 100 of whom were in first class. Designed as a cruiser, it was also armed with four cannons and machine guns.

The Elingamite shipwreck

On November 5, 1902, the Elingamite left Sydney Harbour in the morning to make its usual run between the Australian city and Auckland, New Zealand. Captain Ernest Atwood and 52 crew members were on board with 136 passengers. The ship also carried a cargo of gold and silver coins for New Zealand banks.

On November 9, 1902, the fog lifted and hampered visibility. It was already too late when the captain saw West Island, the ship headed straight for the rock and ended up hitting it. The ship sank in about 20 minutes. The passengers managed to jump into six lifeboats and two makeshift rafts. They sailed and scattered around the Three Kings Islands. One boat reached the main island and was found two days later by the SS Zealandia. Other boats arrived at Great King Island and Houhora in New Zealand. One raft, measuring four by two meters, drifted for nearly five days before being found by the Penguin. Eight of the sixteen passengers did not survive, they had only two apples for food. One of the boats was never found. In total, 17 crew members and 28 passengers died in the tragedy.

A two-month investigation found Captain Atwood guilty of negligence. His certificate was revoked and he was fined 50 pounds. A few years later, the Australian Naval Station certified that the location of the Three Kings Islands on the charts was not accurate. The captain had sailed with false charts. The investigation was reopened and the captain was exonerated and his 50 pounds were returned to him…

sauvetage naufrage Elingamite
Copyright Inconnu
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 7-A14331

The treasure of the Elingamite shipwreck

Off the north coast of New Zealand, about 50 kilometers from Cape Reinga, the wreck of the Elingamite still lies on the ocean floor.

When the ship sank, it took with it a cargo of 14,000 pounds of silver coins and 3,000 pounds of gold coins worth an estimated two million dollars today. The coins had traveled from England, where they had been minted, and sent to New Zealand to replenish dwindling supplies to banks. A treasure that remains legendary among numismatists.

For years, adventurous researchers have tried to get their hands on the Elingamite treasure, without much success. Harper Subritsky, for example, made an unsuccessful attempt in 1958. Other research expeditions were carried out, but the history of the Elingamite remained tragic until the end. Several diving accidents occurred and the treasure hunt stopped after the death of two divers, Eric Harper and Clark.

In 1956, New Zealand divers Kelly Tarlton, Wade Doak, Malcolm Blair, John Dearling and others undertook an expedition that lasted five years. They found silver and copper coins, but few gold sovereigns.

Some of the objects are preserved in the collection of the Paihia Museum and the gold and silver coins from the wreck of the Elingamite are prized by collectors.

The Elingamite wreck is now privately owned and the rights have been sold by the original insurance company. A large part of the treasure still lies at a depth of 50 meters. So a word to the wise…

Sources :
Auckland City
Teara, l’encyclopédie de Nouvelle-Zélande
Christchurch city council

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